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The New Despotism

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A disturbing in-depth expos� of the antidemocratic practices of despotic governments now sweeping the world.

One day they'll be like us. That was once the West's complacent and self-regarding assumption about countries emerging from poverty, imperial rule, or communism. But many have hardened into something very different from liberal democracy: what the eminent political thinker John Keane describes as a new form of despotism. And one day, he warns, we may be more like them.

Drawing on extensive travels, interviews, and a lifetime of thinking about democracy and its enemies, Keane shows how governments from Russia and China through Central Asia to the Middle East and Europe have mastered a formidable combination of political tools that threaten the established ideals and practices of power-sharing democracy. They mobilize the rhetoric of democracy and win public support for workable forms of government based on patronage, dark money, steady economic growth, sophisticated media controls, strangled judiciaries, dragnet surveillance, and selective violence against their opponents.

Casting doubt on such fashionable terms as dictatorship, autocracy, fascism, and authoritarianism, Keane makes a case for retrieving and refurbishing the old term "despotism" to make sense of how these regimes function and endure. He shows how they cooperate regionally and globally and draw strength from each other's resources while breeding global anxieties and threatening the values and institutions of democracy. Like Montesquieu in the eighteenth century, Keane stresses the willing complicity of comfortable citizens in all these trends. And, like Montesquieu, he worries that the practices of despotism are closer to home than we care to admit.

320 pages, Hardcover

Published May 12, 2020

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About the author

John Keane

48 books31 followers
John Keane is the professor of politics at the University of Sydney and the author of The Life and Death of Democracy.

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5 stars
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16 (53%)
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3 (10%)
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Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 reviews
Profile Image for Neil H.
178 reviews10 followers
May 6, 2020
I read this initially thinking it was a belated usage of despotism in contrast with new and figured this will be an interested if not quick read. Despite its austere cover I was smacked with an uncomfortable feeling when Singapore (current citizen) was mentioned. I veered from shifting in my seat to being wide eyed slack jawed as Mr Keane recounted the many ways power has been manipulated and renewed with recombinant strands to purchase the hearts and minds of those in subject. I swore many times in the book, even though he could be mentioning other countries tactics in charming the populace into thinking those in power knew best. He was speaking also about Singapore.

The horror is that we knew we were accomplices to capitulating our freedom for thoughts and destinies in life to those who purports to know best -and for the harmonious living and the selected preservation of traditional ways of life.

Legacies, hubris, disconnect contributes to those in power finding and maintaining their acolytes and promoting themselves in continued elevation. As Mr Keane also mentioned towards the end of the book how this insidious connivance has handshaked itself with co-operations, democracies. I wonder if the technological marvels of curated consumerist culture is another despotism cloaking itself.

I hope to find a sliver of hope in how we could better manage ourselves despite our limited bandwith for decision making when they are served to citizens with a smile and palm shushing us quiet. Part humor part expository and all devastating, this has been quite a read and much appreciated for a renewed lens.
Profile Image for Evelyn.
894 reviews5 followers
September 18, 2021
An erudite analysis of the despotic authoritarian forms of government currently in control of a diverse group of countries such as China, Hungary, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The author looks at how their leaders, in some instances, were able to pervert preexisting Democratic forms of governance and twist them to do their bidding, and in others to present a semblance of democracy. He then describes how the rulers of these country are able to not only gain, but remain in control through the manipulation of mass and social media, webs of corruption, trickle down economics, as well as use of an iron fist to suppress dissent, when needed.

The book provides insights that are helpful for understanding why some democracies such as the United States are vulnerable to despotic rule.

The book loses a star for the lack of detailed case studies that illuminate some of the points made by the book and alluded to in short references to various practices undertaken by despots in different countries mentioned in the book.
Profile Image for Greg.
292 reviews5 followers
December 18, 2020
Very interesting book by an Australian academic. Studies the decline of democracy across the world. Analyses in great detail how a democracy can be very slowly corrupted wittingly or unwittingly until it becomes a despotic state although it may still look and feel like a democracy to most people. Singapore is a good example. Manipulation of the minds of the people is a big part of this. Despotism in most countries will not arrive with jackboots and swastikas - it will be far more subtle than that. It won't even be particularly brutal or violent. The power of persuasion will play a big role in the seduction of the people. The author doesn't hold out much hope for democracy. To stop the drift to despotism would require a large number of citizens to be very aware of the drift and to speak out against it. Despots can use populism to get support for their goals, e.g. Donald Trump.
Profile Image for Ramil Kazımov.
303 reviews8 followers
November 22, 2021
Yazar Yeni despotizmlerden bahsediyor..

Peki, yeni Despotizmler nedir ?
Yeni despotizmler, yazarın demiş olduğu gibi "hayalet demokrasiler". Eski despotizmler şiddete dayalı be korkunun hüküm sürdüğü yönetim biçimleriydi. Ama Yeni Despotizmler tamamen farklı bir şey - Yeni Despotizmler demokrasinin birçok unsurunu kendinde barındırıyor ama demokrasiden farkı bu unsurların kullanılmasında: Yeni Despotizmler demokrasi unsurlarını kendi yönetimlerini korumak ve sürdürmek için kullanırlar. Ve pek tabii gerek duydukları zaman şiddet bile kullanırlar ama her zaman değil. Bu gibi despotizmlerde seçimler bile vardır: sonucları pekala müphem ve de amacı, despotun kendi hakimiyetini laikleştirmesi. Yazar kitapda Türkiye, Çin, Rusya, Kazakistan, Kırgızıstan, Azerbaycan, İran, Beyaz Rusya, Türkmenistan gibi yeni despotizmlerden bahsediyor.

Siyaset bilimine ilgi duyan herkesin mutlaka okuması gereken harika bir kitap 😎
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